Broadly speaking, marketing tactics can be placed into two distinct groups: inbound marketing tactics and outbound marketing tactics.
Inbound tactics help potential customers discover you on their terms. This includes most forms of content marketing, SEO, social media, and email marketing (but only when the customer has specifically opted-in).
Benefits of Outbound Marketing
Outbound tactics are based around activities that involve the business reaching out to the customer. This can include cold calling, direct mail campaigns, and most types of advertising.
They’re also often described as interruption-based and permission-based marketing – you can probably guess which one is which.
Outbound has fallen out of favor with many marketers in recent years, but this doesn’t mean making the first move with customers doesn’t have its advantages.
- Outbound marketing can get you in front of huge numbers of people very quickly.
There’s a waiting period between beginning an inbound marketing strategy and seeing any results. From there, those results should (in an ideal world) keep improving over time.
That’s a good thing, but if you need to get in front of as many people as possible as fast as possible – say, when you’re initially launching a new product or brand – you need outbound marketing.
- It gets fast results (in terms of how quickly leads become sales).
Outbound marketing is designed to secure sales fast. It’s not about spending weeks (or even months) nurturing leads who aren’t sure what they want or when they want it. Get outbound marketing right, and you’re targeting people who are ready to buy.
With the right email, marketing materials, or a phone call from someone who knows and loves the product and can sell it, those leads could potentially become sales that very same day.
- It’s easily scalable
Few, if any, inbound tactics get results immediately. This can make scaling pretty tricky. How do you know where is best to invest if you don’t yet know what’s working and what isn’t? Is it even worth scaling tactics that won’t generate returns for 6 months, 12 months, or more?
If you need to generate revenue asap, you need to scale up on the areas that are driving results now.
These are almost always outbound tactics.
Thankfully, they’re easy to scale. It’s not hard to send more emails, hand out more flyers, increase your presence at industry events, or make more phone calls. If any of those tactics are getting results, extend your reach and you can realistically expect the results you get to improve with it.
- Direct forms of outbound marketing allow you to talk to customers, build relationships with them, and understand how you can market to them more effectively.
There’s no better way to build relationships than by talking on the phone, or better yet, face-to-face – activities that form the backbone of many outbound marketing tactics.
Relationships can be built using inbound tactics too, but there’s often a big difference in their type and quality.
When we talk about building relationships using inbound marketing, we’re generally thinking about how we can get customers to connect with us via the marketing materials we use – whether that’s social media, video, website content – or something else.
This can make customers feel affiliated with the brand and increase their loyalty to it, but it’s not going to result in the types of relationships that are created when we’re actually out there, talking to people directly.
Benefits of Inbound Marketing
According to HubSpot’s 2017 State of Inbound Report, 71% of companies primarily conduct inbound marketing.
That’s a significant chunk of businesses, so why are they doing it? When outbound marketing gets you fast, scalable results, why are so many companies choosing to decrease their use of outbound marketing tactics in favor of inbound activities?
- Inbound gets more sustainable, long-term results than outbound marketing.
A well-written, long-form, evergreen blog post has the potential to drive traffic almost permanently (or at least for as long as the post remains on your site). The same can be said for other forms of content as well as things like influencer campaigns, and the overall impact of the work you do to build your brand.
In other words, the effects of inbound marketing don’t disappear overnight. Those results can be seen (and usually are seen) long after your investment stops.
Conversely, outbound tactics typically cause a spike in sales which quickly reverses when you stop spending.
- It can effectively target customers at all stages of the sales funnel
Inbound marketing works across the whole buying process. Blog posts and other resources like ebooks and videos can be produced to target customers who know they have a problem but don’t know the solution, all the way through to customers who are considering your product but need a little more information before deciding to make their purchase.
Email sequences (email marketing can be both inbound and outbound) can push potential customers through the sales funnel using contextually-appropriate information, content and offers.
Outbound marketing, on the other hand, rarely works unless prospects are already at the bottom of the sales funnel.
- It’s preferred by consumers because it doesn’t interrupt their flow and targets them on their terms.
One of the biggest barriers to outbound marketing is consumers’ (and increasingly, businesses’) stance towards it. Outbound marketing is interruptive. Even if a potential customer is looking for this type of product, they might not want to talk about it with you, right now.
While this isn’t as much of an issue as some people would have you believe (more on this just below) it does highlight one of the key benefits to inbound marketing: you’re reaching customers on their terms.
Why Your Growth Team Needs Both…
The way most marketers think about outbound marketing has shifted. It’s frequently viewed as outdated. Many marketers think it just doesn’t work anymore – period. They believe only inbound tactics are worth their time and investment.
In fact, when asked what they think the most overrated marketing tactic is, 32% of marketers said paid advertising.
I think marketers with this mindset are missing out.
Outbound marketing isn’t the problem – it’s how we use it.
Traditionally, outbound marketers would relentlessly push their product onto prospects at all costs. It was largely seen as a numbers game. It didn’t matter whether a prospect was interested – get in front of enough of them, and someone’s going to buy.
This has (by and large), changed.
While we’re still reaching out to customers directly, we’re not focusing on what our product can do, but what it can do to help the customer. We need to overcome objections by understanding customers’ pain points and where our product fits in.
The result is a set of tactics that can drive great results alone, but are even more effective when used alongside an inbound marketing strategy.
Here’s why your growth team should be using both inbound and outbound marketing tactics.
- It allows you to more effectively target every stage of the sales funnel.
To be as effective as possible at nurturing and converting customers, you need both inbound and outbound marketing. Restrict yourself to one or the other, and you can safely assume you’re either going to be:
- Missing out on sales from potential customers who are ready to buy but need the push of a direct sales strategy, or
- Failing to get in front of potential customers as they enter the sales funnel and are looking for information that will directly or indirectly influence their decision to buy
Instead, use inbound tactics to attract customers further up the sales funnel so you can capture their contact details, then leverage direct forms of outbound marketing to maximize how effective you are at nurturing and converting them.
- It drives sales immediately.
Inbound tactics rarely, if ever, drive sales immediately. Sure, a solid SEO strategy could see you driving bottom-of-the-funnel visitors to your site, and a website designed with the needs of the user in mind could quickly convert them – but how long does it take to get to the point at which that happens?
SEO typically takes 6 months or more to even start getting results (although this varies a lot depending on the state of your website and your industry). Even then, results are not guaranteed.
If you need sales now (and most businesses do), you can’t be relying on what might be. You need to be investing in tactics that generate leads and turn them into sales quickly, alongside tactics that will drive sales organically later down the line.
The only way to do that is by investing in inbound and outbound growth tactics simultaneously.
- It helps future-proof your bottom line.
Outbound tactics will drive sales and start lining your back pockets immediately
Executed correctly, inbound tactics will continue to generate sales long after you stop investing in them – in other words, they will help to future-proof your bottom line.
SEO is probably the best example.
Rankings in the SERPs change all the time, but if you’re consistently ranking in the top 5 positions, you don’t suddenly drop out the moment you stop optimizing your site and building links. That’s a slow process that happens over many months – even years – depending on the competitiveness of your industry, and how “ahead” you are of the competition when you give up on SEO.
This isn’t the case with outbound.
Almost immediately after you stop investing, sales will drop off.
Again, this isn’t a problem – as long as you’re also investing in long-term tactics that will help future-proof your bottom line.
- It makes it easier to respond to the immediate needs of the company (i.e. to scale up or scale down).
Let’s say you’re looking to push for more sales of a particular product – maybe because it’s proving way more profitable than your other products. It’s easy to respond to this need by upping your investment in outbound marketing. You can’t do this if your growth team is reliant solely on inbound, simply because those tactics are so slow to get results.
On the other hand, you might find you need to slash marketing costs, but you’re worried about this move’s impact on your bottom line. Temporarily reducing your investment in inbound can allow you to do this. You can cut costs by reducing spending or pausing activities entirely, without seeing your sales impacted for many months (or more).
- It can help you stand out from the competition.
Since so many companies are rejecting traditional outbound activities, competition for attention in these areas will have understandably dropped. Consequently, it’s easier to stand out and get prospects to listen to you.
By a similar token, if your competitors are using both inbound and outbound tactics, you need to be using them both too if you want to ensure you’re on a level playing field.
Do you prefer to use inbound or outbound growth tactics? Will you be adjusting your strategy in response to what you’ve read here? I’d love to hear your thoughts – if you have the time it’d be great if you could leave a comment.